On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Shoes. Shoes. More shoes.

Today's question: proper shoe fitting.  What's normal?

I got a call over the weekend from a good friend, who has recently moved to New Hampshire and  needed running shoe advice.

As an aside, this friend has near-impeccable taste in shoes but very different habits than mine.  I visited her in Paris a few years ago (she was spending several months working there), and I was flabbergasted to find that she had THREE pairs of shoes with her: running shoes, Ferragamo Audrey flats, and heels.  Three pairs of shoes.  Not even one pair a month.  I probably had more shoes with me for my several day trip.

This is the two of us at Machu Picchu.
Look closely and you'll see her Mizunos.
Anyway, she's very athletic and has been a runner on-and-off since high school, but is not into distance running.  She is, however, preparing to do Mt. Washington with me next year if we get in off the lottery.  And since high school, she's worn the same style of Mizunos...  until they changed them recently, and both the new shoe and the replacement that was recommended don't work with her feet.

I, of course, defaulted to my usual: go and get fitted.  Now, she has a small frame and is a normal pronator and would probably be okay with almost any shoe, but I held firm: go to a running store and get fitted.

And here's my point: I told her about my most recent experience buying shoes and how the woman at Jack Rabbit kept me there for nearly 45 minutes, telling me all about my feet (medium arches, "fan" shaped forefoot) while bringing me different shoes, and how she had me run on the treadmill while videotaping my footstrike and then played back the footage so I could see my pronation on the big screen to see how the shoe fit.  I also told her how Jack Rabbit gives you two weeks of wearing the shoes to try them, during which you can return them if they don't work.

Well.  My friend was surprised.  Evidently she's never been fitted like that.  Moreover, though, she was calling me from Sports Authority wanting to buy shoes just then.  (She was willing to wait, but for what? There aren't any specialized stores around, so her chances of finding something on her own at Sports Authority were as good as her chances of finding something online.)

I guess this brings up - and what doesn't, these days? - questions about how important one's shoes are to running, anyway.  If you follow the minimalist mentality, too much shoe is worse than too little.  I'm on a backlash right now, having just upgraded to more shoe to stop my shin pain.  But could she have just grabbed pretty much any shoe that felt good to her?

So, for her sake (living somewhere relatively rural without big-city technology), what suggestions do you have?  What are your shoe fitting experiences?  What's the weirdest shoe experience you've had?  What's the most high tech experience (I suspect Jack Rabbit is up there)?  And most importantly, how much do you rely on the sales associate versus your own gut - what should she have done at Sports Authority?


  1. Shoe fitting is important! Very! Poor shoe fitting at a running specialised store (!!!) caused shin splints.:( Proper shoe fitting at another store cured it. And I am one of those girls that relies on the sales associate. My own gut has given me injuries on several occasions now, so, they can pretty much sell me anything. ;) Perfect customer!

  2. I'm terrible because I always want to pick my shoes based on color, even though I know you're not supposed to do that. Some of them are so cute! (Actually, mostly they're ugly.)

  3. I like Super Runners 'cause my hubs worked there back in the day. They don't get too terribly technical, from what I've seen (though there is a treadmill and I guess they analyze people running on it)BUT some of the guys there can just glance at your feet and immediately have 3 selections for you. That's how I started with the Asics. I would never have picked those for myself. I kind of have a crush on Brooks now, too, becuase of the recycled shoes, but that's my gut talking and my gut is generally wrong in these things (shiny!) If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

  4. I guess I'm pretty fortunate to not have high-maintenance feet. In general, when I actually go to a running store, I'll tell the person my previous pair of shoes, and they'll bring out that type as well as a few similar styles. I pick whatever feels fine. On the other end of the spectrum, my dad (age 61, runner of 35 miles per week since his 20s) buys the cheapest non-leather shoes he can find at Sports Authority and calls it a day.